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What We Learned: Religiously converting your non-hockey friend into a raging puckhead

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it. Ryan Lambert will be back next Monday; today’s WWL is written by Greg Wyshynski.

“The Book of Mormon” is a tremendous musical, simultaneously goofing on yet embracing the trappings of that ridiculous genre, while skewering organized religion with the pointed dagger the “South Park” boys previously used on L. Ron Hubbard.

But the Broadway hit also provides us with a salient point about recruiting non-believers: It’s less about the message than the means. If the natives aren't digging the Mormon narrative, drop a bunch of "Star Wars" references into it. This is true in organized faith as much as it’s true in centuries of salesmanship: It’s about tailoring your pitch, providing a comforting environment and understanding what they’re looking to get out of the experience.

[Y! Sports Radio: Nick Cotsonika assesses the first month of the NHL season]

(It’s also a musical about maggots in male genitalia and Mormons being assailed by satanic coffee cups, but that’s less relevant to this column. At least the second example isn’t.)

As hockey fans, especially in the U.S., we’ve gone on our missions to convert the uninitiated. To grow the flock. To bring the light of puck into the dark hearts of baseball and basketball fans who have stumbled down the wrong path.

Thing is, we all need to do more of it, especially after Gary and Don drowned the NHL’s momentum with casual sports fans in a tar pit of ego. Yeah, we all came back. Sure, the numbers are strong. But we can’t be the only ones that sense the lockout took hockey off the radar for those casual sports fans that rubberneck the Winter Classic and the Stanley Cup Playoffs; or the ones that are curious about hockey but never took the plunge.

Fear not. Today’s Lambert-less edition of WWL will provide you with a six-step program for getting a heathen into our temple, drinking our holy water and then sending them out to ring more doorbells.

It all starts with getting them to the game. A reading from the Book of Gordie …

(Coming Up: John Tortorella is a meanie; Jake Allen's clutch save; the 101-year-old fan attends first game; Ryan Miller haz a sad; Mike Babcock needs a bucket; more sickness from Ales Hemsky; bombs tossed between Blues and Canucks; Viktor Fasth is humble; and where did Patrick Marleau go?)

1. Locate a potential convert.

This is more challenging than you’d anticipate.

It requires a brief interview to determine the following: Have they ever attended an NHL game before? Have they ever seen one on television? If so, did they have trouble understanding the game/following the puck/overcoming a feeling of indifference because there isn’t a basketball game’s offensive pace and/or they don’t have money on the outcome?

If they fit into any of those latter categories, explain that the visceral thrill of the live in-arena experience overcomes any difficulty they might have in connecting with the game through visual media.

Or that you’ll buy them a ticket, that there’s beer there* and hope they have nothing else better to do that night.

2. Pick the proper game.

I took a convert to a Flyers/Devils game at the Rock on a Saturday night. Granted, this kind of blood feud isn’t readily available in every NHL city. So find a game situation that you feel will best capture the essence in the in-arena experience. No mid-week games against inconsequential non-division opponents. If your team is attendance challenged, grab a game you’re sure will have a least a hint of the enthusiastic chaos in the stands that’s like crack-rock to puckheads.

(No, I have no idea how this applies to Phoenix Coyotes games. I guess just wait for Detroit to come through or something.)

3. Pick the proper seats.

Again, trust your gut on this. If they seem the type that needs to be close to the action to better understand the speed and fury of the game, then snag some tickets in the high rows of the lower bowl.

(Don’t go setting the bar ridiculously high with the tickets near the glass; that’s like giving them 25 orgasms on the first date.)

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If they seem the type that will become addicted to puck because of the fan experience, get thee to the cheap seats.

Which brings us to …

4. Beer.

I’ve often felt that attendance at church wouldn’t be waning if they’d just do the wine goblet thing earlier in the mass.

Ditto beer in our temples. Beer and hockey go together like cats and YouTube. Provided there aren’t 12 steps, ahem, "reasons" why you can't do it, ply them early and often with suds.

* If you’ve done your job as a hockey proselytizer, then you’ll have worked out some sort of “you buy the first two rounds and I’ll buy the ticket” agreement with the potential puckhead. Being that the cost of a beer you’d actually like to drink runs you upwards of $9 in most arenas, you’re talking about a $36 outlay, reducing the hit from your upper deck ticket (assuming that was the play) and paying you back in beer. Which, frankly, should be our national currency anyway.

5. Point out the Ice Girls/Cheerleaders/Dancers.

Depending on your company, reactions will range from leering to cattiness to outright guffawing. Regardless, it's point of conversation between the fights.

6. Above All Else, Be Patient.

Targeted education is that pathway to obsession. Don’t get caught up in the minutia of the rulebook – explaining icing to a newbie fan is a surefire way for them to hear the Charlie Brown Teacher Voice Trombone whenever you speak.

Instead, explain the sexy. The stuff behind the play. The kinetic thrill of seeing a goal develop. The traditions on the ice, in the stands and dangling from the rafters. Why a certain team or player or referee has their name affixed to “SUCKS” during crowd chants.

In other words, all the stuff they tend to leave off the broadcast and the commercials. The things you can only see, hear and feel inside the arena. The things that lead to epiphanies whenever a potential convert enters the temple for the first time – and brings them back again and again.

There you go. A surefire way to get that guy in your office or that girl in your coffee shop to love the puck. Before you know it, they’ll be teaming up in twos to spread the gospel of the NHL to the corners of this world that know not of hockey’s joy. And after they leave Mississippi, they’ll move onto the next state …

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Viktor Fasth joins the long list of goaltenders that can’t take all the credit for how awesome they are. “I’m not going to stand here and just talk about myself. I mean, it’s a team sport. If the guys don’t play good in front of me, I can’t play good. And the other way around. It’s a team game.”

Boston Bruins: Stanley Cup of Chowder on Brad Marchand, who is putting pucks into the net like they’re fists into a Sedin’s face: “He's now shooting at 47%! Nearly half of the kid's shots are going in! Is he sapping Bergeron's mojo like some kind of scoring-mojo vampire? What gives? Enjoy it while it lasts, regression lies ahead.”

Buffalo Sabres: Jason Pominville’s turnover led to Pascal Dupuis’ tying goal in the Sabres’ loss to the Penguins. Oh, Ryan Miller, was this a good way to lose? “It’s just a [bleep] way to lose,” Miller said. “I don’t understand. Your guard has to be up at all times. They get right back in the game. And a broken play to seal it for them. Just preventable and not what we need to be doing right now.”

Calgary Flames: Bob Hartley believes that goalie Daniel Taylor may be the next Dwayne Roloson, i.e. a late bloomer. Which is great news for the 2023-24 Calgary Flames, as Taylor will be 36 a.k.a. in His Roloson Prime.

Carolina Hurricanes: Canes Country believes a certain defenseman has been Faulk’in great this season: “He usually gets the tough matchups every night, isn't getting a zone start push and is somehow managing to drive the play forward. Oh, and he is only 20 years old. Faulk was very good in his rookie season but he is playing on a completely different level now.”

Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks are now 12-0-3, inching closer to tying the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks’ record of 16 games without a regulation loss to start the season. And Jonathan Toews couldn’t be more excited: “What’s important to us is getting home ice advantage, making the playoffs. Once you get there, the real season starts. When you get there, nobody remembers these streaks at the start of the season.” Zzzzzzzzzz....

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs talked to the New York Rangers about a Ryan O’Reilly for Michael Del Zotto and Chris Kreider or J.T. Miller swap. No word when Glen Sather stopped laughing, or if he has yet.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Scott Howson suggested the Blue Jackets hire John Davidson, who fired him last week. Just in case you were wondering if Scott Howson was capable of making a good decision as GM.

Dallas Stars: Trevor Daley left the Stars’ 4-3 loss to Calgary with an “upper body injury.”

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Somebody get Mike Babcock a bucket, as the Red Wings’ winless streak reached three games. “You have to win and get points in this league or you lose sight of everything in a hurry. Right now, we're taking on water.''

Edmonton Oilers: More sickness from Ales Hemsky, whose contract PJ Stock still thinks is terrible:

Florida Panthers: The charity point helped the Panthers win the Southeast last season, but their inability to win games in OT might keep them out of the playoff this season.

Los Angeles Kings: Keaton Ellerby’s time at the Keith Ballard School of Goalie Head Etiquette have really paid off:

Minnesota Wild: Rookie Jason Zucker, who scored his first NHL on Sunday, on his playmaking skills or lack thereof: "I'm not exactly a passer," he said. "I'm trying to get the puck on net and limit my passing."

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens played something called “Hockey Baseball” in practice on Sunday. Finally, a way to revive the Expos! Somewhere, Youppi squees.

Nashville Predators: Dave Lozo makes the case for Pekka Rinne to be the current MVP frontrunner. “Despite getting an average of 1.8 goals of support (and zero goals in three games already), Rinne has almost single-handedly earned the Predators 11 of 20 points in his starts. Rinne has been the difference between the Predators sitting sixth in the Western Conference through Sunday's games and sinking to the bottom of the standings.”

New Jersey Devils: You know, the Devils have pretty OK goaltending:

New York Islanders: The NY Post reports that Charles Wang has been in talks with an investment bank in order to sell the Islanders for upwards of $300 million. Because Brooklyn, that’s why.

New York Rangers: John Tortorella curtly replied “none of your business” when asked about Rick Nash’s health on Sunday morning, leading members of the media to protest his behavior while once again spending time obsessing over it.

Ottawa Senators: Hell of a time for Kyle Turris to go into a tailspin, what with Karlsson and Spezza (and potentially Michalek) out. He hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 25.

Philadelphia Flyers: Danny Briere is drawing inspiration from the past to rally the Flyers. “When Lavy took over the team a few years ago, I think we ended up being 14th in the conference at one point and we made the playoffs late in the season, and rode it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.. … So it's not too late. I really believe with the team that we have, we can come back in this race and we should be making the playoffs.”

Phoenix Coyotes: Zbynek Michalek blocks much rubber with his body. When does it hurt the most? “The worst is when you take it straight on the bone.”

Pittsburgh Penguins: We don’t want to say things are going well for the Penguins, but Paul Martin scored a game-winning goal.

San Jose Sharks: How are the Sharks going to pull out of their 7-game losing streak? Getting Patrick Marleau to shoot a bit more would be a good thing.

St. Louis Blues: Ryan Reaves dropped some bombs here on Aaron Volpatti. Ouch.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Vincent Lecavalier is tied for 16th in the NHL in points, and is averaging 1.07 points per game. Party like it’s 2007!

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Buds honored the 1963 Stanley Cup champion Leafs, and used the ice as a giant projection screen, which is neat.

Vancouver Canucks: Ever after his Blues defeated the Canucks, Ken Hitchcock believes Vancouver just got a lot harder to play with Ryan Kesler healthy: “They play on the inside now, they are not a perimeter team, they are going to be awful difficult to play against.” Which is a polite way of saying the rest of the team is a bunch of floaters, I guess.

Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby was awesome against the Rangers on Sunday, despite the loss. Eric Fehr called him “Holtsy”; can a nickname be as long as the name being nicked?

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets’ 5-game road trip will make or break their season. Looking at the slate of games, we’ll go with “break.”

Play of the Weekend

Maybe Alex Burrows could have lifted the puck a bit more. Or maybe Jake Allen just had this overtime breakaway figured out brilliantly.

Gold Star Award

That’s 101-year-old Herb Dawe attending his first Canucks hockey game. Yes, put the century-old man in a place where hard rubber discs fly at your face at 100 miles per hour. Genius.

Minus of the Weekend

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The Flyers dropped games in Jersey and Montreal, moving to 2-8-0 on the road. Last season, they were 25-13-3.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

No, seriously, this going to shock you, but “Hi-wayman” is in fact a Vancouver fan:

To Phoenix: Cory Schnieder, Anton Rodin, Bill Sweatt

To Vancouver: Radim Vrbata, David Runblad, Mike Smith

We eagerly await the expansion of this trade to include Shane Doan for a Jyrki Lumme O-Pee-Chee card with the corners bent.

Signoff

You know, Helen Keller was largely useless, but look how we remember her. Yep: First lady of the American stage.

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